Reflective Journal Week 25, 15 Mar – 21 Mar 2020

British Art Colony by Sea

P48 “It is difficult in general to say a great deal about these more orthodox paintings —— even the painter themselves make very little commentary on their work. The simple reason for this is that everything is so immediately understandable; we have grown up in a world where until now, at any rate, traditional painting — — the view as seen, the face as recognised —— has become an accepted part of life. This has particularly been so in St. Ives, where, from the heyday of Julius Olsson to the Swanson of his star pupil, John Park — a span of nearly fifty years — people coming to St. Ives have expected to find paintings of all the lovely scenes around them, and they have found them.” 

Indeed, the academic nowadays has past its time of improving realism techniques. It focuses much more on the theoretical development, aesthetic study, social problem even anthropology. Contemporary artists work on their identities, emotional attachment and controversial social phenomena. Academic artworks often established on a solid research background and critically reflected on reality. British academicians generally use painting as a carrier of political pursuit, which is quite distinctive comparing to the other end of the world. The enormous contribution to theories and politics occupied a massive proportion of fine art. 

This distinctiveness formed a strong contrast with the preference of realistic work and photographic painting in Chinese academies. I believe this difference reflects on a social fact and ideological value. It will be irresponsible to make a judgement; therefore, I decided to take a balanced position. Some radical factions in western society would argue that painting is dead; the future of the subject was relevant to theoretical studies. I agree the most of it, but I may have to point out that mathematically speaking, a transition to pure support for theoretical work is not likely to suit everyone’s aesthetic standard. But since these innovative artists barely considered the decorativeness of their works, my concern would be unnecessary in this context. On the other hand, those whom (majorly Chinese public voices) considered abstract works (or works they don’t understand) “worthless”, “can be made by a five-year-old in a better form”, their stupidity and ignorance are forgivable. 

Denys Val Baker is a Welsh author however known for his promotion of Cornish artists.  


Cornwall had always enchanted Val Baker, and he eventually moved there permanently to St.Ives in 1948. This change was to mark a new era in his writing career. While continuing to write short stories, he also launched the publication The Cornish Review in 1949. The Cornish Review featured poems, short stories, articles, art and book reviews. This quarterly magazine lasted three years and ten issues. In 1966 Val Baker revived the Review with much the same mixture, this time it lasted for twenty-six issues until it folded in 1974.[1] An Index to “The Cornish Review” by Phoebe Proctor was published by the Institute of Cornish Studies in 1978; “The Cornish Review” magazine: an illustrated bibliography by Tim Scott was published by Cornish Connections / Hare’s Ear ISBN 0-9515686-2-0.[2]

In 1959 he published acclaimed Britain’s Art Colony by the Sea about the artistic community of Cornwall and particularly based around St. Ives. Val Baker lived in various places in Cornwall as his family kept growing. The family life in Cornwall was to provide the basis for many autobiographical, humorous books. The first of which, The Sea’s in The Kitchen, was published in 1962 by Phoenix House and was to be his best selling book since the forties. This was soon followed by The Door is Always Open in 1963 and eventually by another twenty-four.

Denys Val Baker moved to Cornwall and devoted to his writing about Cornish artists and art history there at the age of 31. The quarterly magazine The Cornish Review was launched the next year of his relocation. His well-known reputation and the quality of a comprehensive understanding regarding Cornish art earned him a potent voice in this subject. It is interesting to see how an outsider —— as someone originally from a remote region that next to a post-colonial neighbour —— eventually grew to a representative critic for Cornish artists. 

On Page 48, he briefly introduced his opinion for two commonly separated art styles in St. Ives. He regarded pictorial paintings are always self-explanatory. Despite the fact that he said ‘we have grown up in a world where until now, at any rate, traditional painting — — the view as seen, the face as recognised —— has become an accepted part of life.’ If we considered this sentence as a general argument in the philosophy of art, it, of course, will make sense; if we link it with the writing context, then, the author did pointed out the capability for people to understand Cornish-landscape-generated visual culture by recognising them through observing. A great sense of cultural recognition could eventually lead to the author’s speak on behalf of a different group of people. Such recognition could, and would ultimately lead to a transition of identity.

I do have a concern regarding cultural imperialism. There is already enough arguments criticising the preoccupied impressions made by western artists can sometimes be a part of post-colonisation; I do find many resources would consider regional artists to be British even if they are nationalists or work to criticise the power centralisation of English administration. It should be considered as a reversed inner cultural piracy in the post-colonisation era. This kind of categorisation is obviously against artists’ proposition, creating an ironic scenario (Although nationality is a factor that can not be easily denied). 

Essentially, it is still about the cultural deprivation and identity assimilation between different regions.

John Atkinson Grimshaw was a reputable urban landscape painter of Victorian-era England. He is famous for the mould of the mystic atmosphere with representative utilisation of gloomy light colours that limited in range, yet demonstrate a great variation. He was highly complimented by James Whistler for his nocturnal sceneries of the urban landscape. 

The painting Moonlit Shore (1911) by Albert Julius Olsson RA pictured St Ives Bay with a luminous touch of light. He moved to St Ives and became a representative artist who worked on Cornish landscape. 

Adrian Scott Stokes RA focused a bit more on the relationship between light and the air. His works are mostly in a pastel contrast, painted in the French fashion of en Plein air. He travelled to Barbizon when he was young, adopted the outdoor tradition then moved to St Ives in his 30s. He is a typical St Ives artists who contributed significantly to the art colony. Many works of his are genre painting, often about the pastoral pictures of the countryside. 


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